Thirty-three of the 53 defendants named in the indictment have been arrested, the FBI said, and several others are being sought. The investigation, dubbed "Operation Phish Phry," began in 2007.
Authorities in Egypt have charged 47 defendants linked to the phishing operation.
Phishing is a form of social engineering that attempts to convince Internet users, via e-mail or other means, to provide online credentials via e-mail, Web submission form, or some other method under false pretenses. Often, phishers create fraudulent Web sites that have been designed to look like legitimate Web sites as a way to encourage site visitors to supply sensitive information, such as online banking login details.
Earlier this week, Microsoft warned that "several thousand Windows Live Hotmail customers' credentials were exposed on a third-party site due to a likely phishing scheme." The online attack also appears to have affected users of other online e-mail services, including Google Gmail, and Yahoo Mail.
According to the FBI, the U.S.-Egypt phishing operation collected personal information from thousands of victims and used that information to defraud U.S. banks. Hackers based in Egypt allegedly captured banking information and other personal details, then supplied that information to associates in the U.S. who then withdrew funds using the stolen credentials and wired back a portion of the proceeds to Egypt.
"The sophistication with which Phish Phry defendants operated represents an evolving and troubling paradigm in the way identity theft is now committed," said Keith Bolcar, acting assistant director of the FBI in Los Angeles, in a statement. "Criminally savvy groups recruit here and abroad to pool tactics and skills necessary to commit organized theft facilitated by the computer, including hacking, fraud and identity theft, with a common greed and shared willingness to victimize Americans."
All 53 defendants in the U.S. face charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Some of the defendants also face additional charges that could lead to longer terms.
Register for Interop New York and see the full range of IT solutions to position your organization for growth. At the Jacob Javits Center, Nov. 16-20, 2009. Find out more and register.